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Iraqi anti-Qaeda militias stripped of weapons permits

Anti-Qaeda militiamen in the central Iraqi province of Diyala have been stripped of the right to bear arms, an official said today, sparking a wave of anger and warnings of unrest.

world Updated: Jun 06, 2010 16:29 IST

Anti-Qaeda militiamen in the central Iraqi province of Diyala have been stripped of the right to bear arms, an official said Sunday, sparking a wave of anger and warnings of unrest.

The latest move comes amid efforts to integrate the Sahwa (Awakening) fighters, who joined with US and Iraqi forces in 2006 and 2007 to turn the tide of Iraq's bloody insurgency, with Iraq's security forces and ministries as part of a deal reached in 2008.
"The ground forces commander, Lieutenant General Ali Ghaidan, ordered the withdrawal of weapons permits from Sahwa members in Diyala," said an official in the province's security command, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The decision was taken following the arrest of several militants implicated in assassinations."

The official said that 9,837 militiamen in the province were affected by the decision. However, Zuhair al-Chalabi, a senior Iraqi official responsible for integrating the Sahwa, who are known as the "Sons of Iraq" by the US army, into the security forces and civil service, said that the weapons permits had expired rather than having been withdrawn.

"The Diyala command gave the militiamen special authorisation (to carry arms), and not weapons permits," Chalabi told AFP.

"These authorisations expired and were withdrawn by the command," he added, but declined to specify if they would be renewed.

Chalabi said that the issue only applied to Sahwa members in Diyala, and insisted that there was "no desire (from Iraqi authorities) to deprive them of their arms" nationwide.

The decision to withdraw weapons permits has sparked anger among Sahwa members, whose decision to side with US and Iraqi forces to fight Al-Qaeda and its supporters led to a dramatic fall in violence across the country.

"These weapons are necessary to protect ourselves and to protect the regions under our control," said Khalid al-Samarrai, a Sahwa leader east of Diyala's provincial capital Baquba.

"We will be forced to withdraw to avoid being an easy target for Al-Qaeda if this decision is upheld."

Control of the Sahwa passed from the US to Iraq last October and since then, their wages -- said to have been cut from 300 dollars under US leadership to 100 dollars -- have been paid, often late, by the Shiite-led government.